How Does Gambling Industry Influence The Social Life of Americans

“Transformed employment, physical space, and revenues to become the dominant industry in all four towns. Soon retailers from car dealers to ladies’ ready-to-wear would sell out or convert to casino operations. The citizens who had voted for gambling with the vision that restaurants and bars, maybe even the bakery, might each have a few slot machines in the fronts of their businesses necessarily would soon find that businesses necessarily accommodated slot machines first, and only services that supported the playing of slot machines would survive. Everywhere, mostly run-down buildings that had been previously valued at a few thousand dollars were selling for a few hundred thousand. Not only buildings but streets and sewer and water lines would be renovated or, where possible, simply torn down for a new structure. And all of this was happening as roughly four times as many visitors were coming to town to check out the possibilities of getting rich quickly or at least to be able to have fun in ways previously impermissible. 90

Once gambling enters a small community, the community undergoes many changes. Local government becomes “a dependent partner in the business of gambling.” 91

In considering the overall net impact of gambling on people and places, it is critical that social costs and benefits be included in this assessment. Unfortunately, because of difficulties in quantifying this impact, it appears that many policymakers have been forced to make decisions about expanding gambling without the benefit of this assessment, or, at best, with only an assessment of the perceived social impact.

Historically, communities have embraced or rejected gambling based upon perceived social impacts, concern about criminal activities and moral positions. Even among our nation’s Founding Fathers, much was written warning about the dangers of gambling. In the past, reasons for outlawing or limiting gambling included its negative impact on character and concern about promoting the myth that “lady luck” was more likely to improve one’s situation than would hard work, education, and perseverance.

The Commission heard a significant amount of testimony and reviewed advertising materials that clearly suggested that lotteries and convenience gambling, in particular, sometimes preyed upon this kind of thinking among the most vulnerable populationsžimmigrants, minorities, and economically disadvantaged individuals. Numerous witnesses questioned the apparent contradictory message from states requiring work in exchange for welfare benefits and at the same time, promoting the lotto as a quick and easy means to profit without work.

As was often noted, credible studies of these forms of gambling are especially lacking. How can we begin to measure the social impact of individuals who spend their children’s milk money or cash their welfare checks to buy lottery tickets, as the Commission heard during visits to convenience stores? We cannot, but the Commission can acknowledge that when gambling is promoted as “the only way to get ahead” and, in particular, targets those who do not have “leisure dollars” to spend, the economic and social, indeed, the moral fabric of our nation is damaged.

One of the costs of gambling that the Commission are just beginning to better understand concerns problem and pathological gambling. While the Commission certainly have always known that some individuals have “problems” with gambling, in recent years this has been recognized as a clinical psychological disorder. Today, millions of families throughout the nation suffer from the effects of problem and pathological gambling. As with other addictive disorders, those who suffer from problem or pathological gambling engage in behavior that is destructive to themselves, their families, their work, and even their communities. This includes depression, abuse, divorce, homelessness, and suicide, in addition to the individual economic problems discussed previously. The impact of these problems on the future of our communities and the next generation is indeterminable.

90 Katherine Jensen and Audie Blevins, The Last Gamble: Betting on the Future in Four Rocky Mountain Mining Towns at 9. (1998). See also Blevins and Jensen, “Gambling as a Community Development Quick Fix,” Annals, at 109-123. 91 Ibid.